Enjoying ‘third age’ to the fullest

Ageing gracefully: Selangor U3A members learning how to walk like a model at their clubhouse in Petaling Garden.

PETALING JAYA: On the second floor of a modest shophouse, the room comes to life on certain days of the week with old folks learning to move like catwalk models, swaying to Zumba, blowing harmonicas and strumming ukuleles.

After decades of dedication to work and serving their families, these people are embracing old age with vigour and music – thanks to the University of the Third Age (U3A), an international movement.

With a mission to keep senior citizens mentally, physically and socially active, U3A is fulfilling elderly people’s dreams through its life-long learning programmes.

The Selangor chapter of U3A, based in Section 5, Petaling Garden, is doing just that – allowing members to enjoy their golden years by indulging in passions and activities that they had missed out on earlier in life due to other commitments.

U3A Selangor chairman Albert Teh said ageing gracefully could be a challenge for those without a plan for their “third age”.

He said while a few might decide to seek employment into their twilight years, others were simply passing their time unproductively.

Teh said since the Selangor chapter of U3A was founded in 2015, it has offered more than 30 short courses on dancing, modelling, music and handicraft, tailored for the elderly to keep fit, alert and maintain a sharp memory.

“We had about 400 active members prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, about half of them have either passed away or became disabled after contracting the virus.

“We encourage both young and senior folk to join us to be productive and enrich their social life,” said the 71-year-old widower who lost his wife to cancer three decades ago.

The father of two said while membership was for those 50 and above in the past, it is now open to those as young as 18, adding that 10% of the movement’s membership are those under 30 and the oldest member is 89.

Teh said among the other activities regularly organised by the Selangor U3A were potluck luncheons and study tours to farms and factories.

“There are also smartphone courses where they learn how to navigate and use phones,” he said.

He said the Selangor U3A was self-funded and the annual membership fee is RM25, while a nominal fee of RM50 is charged for each course members sign up for.

Teh, a cancer survivor, said it was crucial for the elderly to stay positive and alert in their old age as failing to do so could take a toll on their health.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and doctors gave him six months to live. However, he remained positive, changed his diet and beat the disease.

“Here I am 10 years later and since God had given me a second lease of life, I have to give back to the community,” he said.

Choo Cheng Lan, 65, an active member of the movement and the centre’s ukulele coach, said she signed up as she enjoyed new challenges.

“Age is just a number and I love learning new skills. I was also involved with U3A when I was in Australia. What I noticed here is it appears to be more women-centric as there are very few men who sign up.

“More men should consider joining. I don’t know what is stopping them,” she said.

Choo said the federal and state governments, as well as local councils, should allocate funds to movements such as U3A to encourage senior citizens to use their free time productively.

“In Australia, U3A is funded by local councils and it is absolutely free to participate in all its programmes. We need not go that far, just emulate what Singapore does for its senior citizens,” said the retired stockbroker.

Popular Mandarin singer Glen Yu, who conducts vocal classes, hopes large corporations can provide financial assistance to the movement to enable it to expand its programmes.

Yu, who has been a singer for the past 30 years and has cut two music albums, said teaching the elderly to sing was fun as they had a good sense of humour.

“It might not be an easy task to teach mature students, but their enthusiasm to learn really motivates me and has me in awe. Many have turned out to be quite good singers,” he added.

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University of the Third Age , U3A ,


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